Michel Deguy, the nourishment of words according to circumstances

In the kingdom of poets, some are aristocrats. Recognized authors, they have the heavy responsibility of being responsible for the words, without sheltering behind the myth of the accursed poet. Michel Deguy, who died on February 16 at the age of 91, was one of them. A figure in the literary world, celebrated, rewarded (national grand prize for poetry in 1989, grand prize for poetry from the French Academy in 2004, Goncourt prize for poetry in 2020), he knew how to keep the source of words alive, through the guards of honor and the inevitable social events.

Poet, but also philosopher, literary critic, publisher and translator, Michel Deguy liked to play with all the shimmers of writing, granting a privileged place to the poem, the only one capable of keeping close to things, of capturing the earthly, of avoid the risks of theory and abstraction. “A poem does not end in any knowledge”, he said, while affirming: “Poetry is pensive. » Born in 1930 in Paris, a brilliant student at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, agrégé in philosophy in 1953, Michel Deguy was first a secondary school teacher and then joined the new University of Vincennes in 1968, where he taught French literature until on his retirement. Published by Gallimard in the late 1950s, he became a member of the publishing house’s reading committee in 1962, before being dismissed in 1987.

In 1977, he founded the journal Po & sie, published by Belin, quickly recognized as a major publication in the poetic field. Close to Jacques Derrida, he chaired the International College of Philosophy from 1989 to 1992. “The poem is always appropriate”, liked to repeat Michel Deguy, who never parted with his little notebooks, butterfly nets of the first sketches, received in “the shredded schedule”. “Circumstance is the word that suits me, the way in which living is raised at every moment by questions or emotions or observations or astonishments or reflections. All this movement belongs to the circumstance. Events are our masters, as Pascal said. »

More than fifty books were born from this way of being on the lookout, including Tomb of Du Bellay (1973), recumbents (1985), Spleen of Paris (2000), Desolation (2007). In one of his last texts, the philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy, who died in 2021, had celebrated the style of his friend (1): “He exclaims, he proclaims, he acclaims, he declaims, he claims. (…) He writes as he speaks. There is in him a rapprochement (a rebate) of the leaping voice with the vibrating pen, barring, scratching the sheet. (…) It is a renewed stream of happenings, a fruitful effervescence. »

If life gripped Michel Deguy, an anger also boiled over in his writings, born of the contemporary marginalization of speech, imagination and meaning. “With the ongoing digital revolution, perhaps we risk leaving the logos? Now what is constitutive for poetry is the link between thinking, speaking and writing. It is perhaps literature as a whole that is threatened in this mutation.he worried.

Without allowing himself to be crushed by this dark presentiment, he responded to it with vigilance. Against the spectacle of the cultural, poetry was for him “a net-network of possibilities stretched above the world” and an ecological meditation path, embracing real life, made up of places, times and connections.


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